A European Thanksgiving

This latest post is a slight departure from our normal travels. We hope you enjoy it.

A setting fit for a König

Another Thanksgiving has come and gone. We all sat around the table with our full stomachs as we looked down at the last few crumbs of Bill’s homemade (and masterfully done) apple pie. Ahhh! But this wasn’t Thanksgiving in Idaho, or Wisconsin, or New Hampshire. This, like our last four Turkey Days has been in our home in Wiesbaden, Germany. Our guests were our next-door neighbors Klaus and his adult son Achim along with our friends David and Daniela who lived next to us in Würzburg years ago. As we drank our coffee, conversation turned to many topics, including politics. Sounds dangerous but it was very interesting and enlightening. The conversation proved that we might all be from different countries but we all seem to share many of the same frustrations, hopes and dreams. Despite the language difference, our

A great group of Freunden

exchange was very lively and quite similar to what you might have in any dining room in America, except with German accents. Luckily, all our guests spoke English but when the conversation got spirited, they would lapse into a foreign blue streak that left Bill and me winded. How is it possible to have so many people talking at once and it doesn’t sound foreign, yet you really can’t understand a lot of what’s being said? It can be challenging and tiring, and for a moment it reminds you that this is not


your home country. We love living here in Germany. We enjoy the lifestyle, the food, the travel, but it’s still not home however much we delight in our European adventure. Our dinner companions looked at us and said (paraphrasing) we Germans don’t live like you Americans. We don’t travel all the time. We go on maybe one trip in a year and it’s usually someplace where we can enjoy sunshine and maybe a beach. But you drive for an hour and spend a day in a small village and tell us of your visit. This just would not occur to us. It was a keen insight for me at that moment. Bill and I have felt truly thankful for the opportunity to live overseas—not just once, but three times. Each time we have traveled fairly extensively and we try to take every opportunity to see as much as we can. We know there are people who may save their entire lives to spend a few weeks riding on a tour bus trying to see as many far flung European locales as their tour guide will allow. Yet we can hop in our car and head off and experience not only the big-ticket locations such as London, Brussels, or Florence but also small out-of-the-way or not-so-famous places full of charm and history. We talked about how we will be heading back home to the States in a little over a year. We showed pictures of a house we are hoping to purchase in a small town in Idaho. One of our guests questioned whether I might have problems adjusting. Surely I had become more European than American. This really made me think about what he was saying. “Look around this dining room,” he laughed. “Where is America? I only see Europe everywhere!” At that moment, it was a bolt out of the blue. My eyes darted around my dining room, and I saw he was

An American outpost

right. He started making gestures with his hands, pointing and exclaiming. “Look! The tapestry from Belgium, the shelf from the Netherlands, the Venetian masks from Italy, the painted cupboard from Germany.” I feebly noted that the tablecloth and napkins had been purchased online from ‘Kohl’s.’ Bill pointed to a wooden plaque with a scene of Williamsburg that I had painted years ago saying, “that’s American!” But my neighbor had hit a nerve. Have I become so Europeanized? Did I prefer apple strudel over apple pie? When it’s time to go home, will I fit in back in the land of my birth and mother tongue? Only time will tell. And when the next chapter of our lives begins, my dining room will once again look like Europe, but in Idaho.

Welcome to our home

The experience did make me reflect on all the blessings Bill and I have, as perhaps we should reflect on Thanksgiving. We hope that all of you that read our little posts about our adventures have much to be thankful for as well.

Next week, we’ll be back to our regularly-scheduled program, with a post about Christmas in Europe. It really is a season here and not a shopping marathon. We’ll tell you all about the opening of the Wiesbaden Christmas Market, which included flying angels, no less!

A Visit to Bayreuth

Beer and opera. You might not think they go together but they are two passions that have done much to make the city of Bayreuth, Germany famous. We visited Bayreuth (pronounced approximately “bye-roit”) recently and had a great time. We wanted to share some of our thoughts and observations.

Neues Schloss

Bayreuth is a lovely city in northern Bavaria known mostly for its association with the composers Richard Wagner and Franz Liszt (with the heavy emphasis on Wagner). Wagner always made me think of beefy blonde women wearing bronze breast plates and horned helmets. He is most famous for epic operas, including the butt numbing four-part, 18-hour Ring Cycle. If you’re a fan of the old Warner Brothers cartoons, you might recall Elmer Fudd and Bugs Bunny starring as Siegfried and Brünnhilde in a somewhat abbreviated Ring. Throughout the city you could see diminutive Wagner statues about 4 feet high in various bright colors with his arms raised as if conducting. The annual Wagner Festival brings tens of thousands of fans to the small city each summer. The average time on the wait list for tickets is anywhere from 5-10 years. Not a problem for us. If we ever feel a Wagner urge, a CD is just fine and we can take breaks whenever we like.

Inside the opera house

One of the most impressive buildings in the city is the Margravial Opera House which dates back to mid-18th century (Trivia note: Margrave is a noble title roughly equivalent to an English Marquess—higher than an Earl, lower than a Duke). I have wanted to see the opera house here for years and it was one of two main reasons I wanted to visit Bayreuth. The baroque interior was exquisitely painted to make virtually all the interior surfaces look three dimensional. You can imagine my disappointment when we arrived and found the opera house undergoing a complete restoration. The years have not been kind to this beautiful building. Updates to the heating and air conditioning over time have taken their toll on the wood as well as the paint. The restoration is a massive undertaking which will take years to complete. The latest estimate now is 2018. Fortunately, we were able to get inside and see a lot of the interior, all though it wasn’t exactly “cleaned up for company.” We at least got to see enough to allow us to appreciate the grandeur of this historic building.

A typical Bayreuth street

Another reason for our visit was to fulfill one of Bill’s dreams, which was to tour the Maisel Brewery. If you are a lover of Weizen-type beers, you have probably heard of Maisel. Actually, Bill is not a big fan of wheat beers in general but he has a deep and abiding fondness for another of their products—an obscure brew called Maisel Dampfbier. German dampfbier (translation: steam beer) is pretty hard to find, even here in the Fatherland but it’s worth the search. I won’t get into the geeky technical details, but suffice to say it’s tasty. Sadly, even Maisel doesn’t brew much of it anymore and when we asked our tour guide, she didn’t know what it was. In her defense, it was only her second day on the job. And she made

The old Maisel brewery

up for any shortcomings by giving us all a beer in a glass approximately the size of my leg. You can see the company’s logo emblazoned on signs hanging in front of restaurants and bars throughout the city. The Guinness Book of World Records “Most Comprehensive Beer Museum” occupies the original brewery building (taken out of commission in the 1970s). The 90-minute tour covered the entire brewing process, and we enjoyed the tour very much even though it was completely conducted in German. Luckily beer needs no translation!

We stayed at the Goldener Löwe (Golden Lion) where the owners prided themselves on their homemade marmalades and jams that they served at breakfast. They were delicious and the breakfast certainly lived up to the billing. Our room was quite comfortable but very small. And we couldn’t beat the location. It was right next door to the Brewery!

We spent a lovely day roaming around the Neues Schloss (New Palace) with its imposing fountain out front and spectacular rooms inside. I suppose some people get tired of wandering through lavish baroque palaces decorated liberally with paintings and sculptures that they remember seeing in books and magazines throughout most of their lives. We don’t. The Neues Schloss was marvelous and touring it softened the blow of the opera house renovation.

At the Old Palace

Nearer the heart of the city, we roamed around the outside of the imposing “Old Palace” with its red and white façade adorned with more than 60 carved medallion heads. Try as we might, we couldn’t seem to find an entrance. We spotted many a sign that proclaimed it did not mark the longed-for entrance. We came to the conclusion that it must have been turned into administrative offices.

The architecture and the main thoroughfare made for some delightful wandering and it didn’t hurt that there was a flea market taking place while we were there. Although about a third of Bayreuth was destroyed in WWII, it was rebuilt and it still retains much of the beautiful Baroque architectural style of its past. It was well worth a visit.